The derby fever was back at the YVBK when East Bengal and Mohun Bagan took on each other in the first derby of the season. The Durand Cup fixture promised some fireworks as East Bengal where looking to bounce back from the disappointing draw against BAFT while Bagan where trying to extend their winning run to three games. Onlookers might have initially believed that Juan Ferrando’s Mohun Bagan had the edge over Cuadrat’s East Bengal.
Yet, as history has shown, derbies defy expectations. It was Nandhakumar’s lone goal in the second half that proved decisive, granting the Red and Yellow Brigade a long-awaited derby triumph. However, the match’s overall quality fell short of typical derby standards, leaving both teams somewhat undeserving of a full three points from the contest.
The encounter kicked off with Mohun Bagan showing early intent, applying significant pressure on East Bengal’s defense. In the opening minutes, Armando Sadiku unleashed a shot that initially appeared destined for the net, yet missed its mark by a substantial distance. Gradually, East Bengal managed to steady their nerves and establish a foothold in the match. The much-discussed duel between Harmanjot Khabra and Liston dominated pre-game conversations, with expectations favoring Liston’s superiority. However, Khabra admirably managed Liston’s threats, turning in a commendable defensive performance. Despite Liston’s impressive dribbling displays, his delivery in terms of passes and crosses where disappointing.
East Bengal came close to seizing an early lead in the 20th minute, as Mahesh’s well-placed cross found Siverio inside the box. However, Brendan Hamil’s save deflected Siverio’s header, maintaining the stalemate. Mohun Bagan’s attacking trio of Manvir, Liston, and Sadiku encountered difficulties breaching East Bengal’s resolute defense, resulting in limited opportunities within the penalty area. In contrast, Naorem’s combination with Siverio and Nandha showcased promise, yet East Bengal struggled to provide the finishing touch.
Shortly before halftime, Borja Hererra’s attempt to find Mahesh within the box was thwarted by Asish Rai and Vishal Kaith, averting a potential goal. As the first half drew to a close, both teams went back to the dugout with the scoreboard at 0-0.
The highlight of the first ten minutes of the second half was Anwar Ali’s audacious attempt from the midfield which struck the crossbar, much to Prabhsukhan Gill’s relief. As Mohun Bagan sought a breakthrough, Juan Ferrando introduced Jason Cummings in place of a struggling Armando Sadiku to bolster the attack. Nonetheless, it was East Bengal who eventually found the breakthrough, capitalizing on a counter-attack. Nandhakumar’s skillfully maneuvered past Thapa and almost had a free run to the goal before he curled in a left-footed effort that beat Vishal Kaith, giving East Bengal a vital lead.
Despite Mohun Bagan’s immediate response with increased offensive urgency, their attempts to approach East Bengal’s box were consistently thwarted by the resolute Red and Gold defenders. A desperate effort by Cummings to test Gill with a long-range dipping shot never dipped and ultimately sailed off-target. As the match entered its final ten minutes, Mohun Bagan struggled to construct cohesive attacks despite the introductions of Sahal and Ashique. Surprisingly, it was East Bengal who appeared more likely to score, as Nandhakumar and Suhair combined dangerously, only to be denied by a crucial intervention from Bagan skipper Bose, preventing a potential two-goal deficit.
As the clock ticked down, Carles Cuadrat reinforced his defensive lines with more men at the back, as East Bengal’s players wanted to secure their elusive derby win. Suhail Bhatt had a scoring opportunity following Anwar’s long ball, but Gill’s swift response thwarted his effort, albeit causing Gill an injury. However, he quickly got back to his, much to the relief of East Bengal’s supporters.
In the dying minutes, Mohun Bagan pushed forward, aided by torrential rain that added a late challenge to the game. The Mariners were awarded a last-minute corner kick, but Anwar Ali’s header narrowly missed the target, frustrating the sea of Mariners who braved the inclement weather.
Read: “We are a club with a never-say-die attitude” – East Bengal coach Carles Cuadrat before the Kolkata Derby
As the final whistle blew, Carles Cuadrat had defied the odds, guiding East Bengal to a triumphant derby win after a prolonged drought. The jubilant East Bengal supporters couldn’t contain their excitement, storming the pitch to celebrate with the victorious players. As the rain-soaked players and East Bengal fans reveled in their triumph, the celebration of their victory underscored a timeless truth: whether labeled a pre-season fixture or not, a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby remains a derby, and a triumph carries the same prestige and weight as those achieved in the league.
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